phoenixBy Alicia Dziak

HoliMont’s Phoenix Adaptive Ski Program has entered its 18th season of teaching kids and adults with all kinds of disabilities how to ski and snowboard.

Chuck Richardson began the program in 1996 with a vision of providing the best possible adaptive ski program to the families and friends of HoliMont and to build on the abilities and strengths of its students.

“We focus on abilities and not disabilities,” Richardson said. “Once we see what these students can really do, we build on that.”

Major equipment, such as sit skis, snow slides and outriggers are available to provide proper instruction to students who otherwise may never be able to ski with their families.

The Phoenix Program also offers truly customizable ski instruction with a one-to-one student to instructor ratio.

“We keep it one on one until a certain level of skiing is achieved, and then the groups will mix for more socialization,” explained Richardson. “But if two students are skiing together, there will still be two instructors working with them.”

David Berghash is one of the highly trained instructors.

“I started out as a volunteer, where I’d shadow a team,” he said. “I really liked it and knew I wanted to be an instructor.”

He proceeded to go through the proper training and has been instructing ever since. He’s now in his 15th year.

Berghash emphasizes how the program’s founder has a way of bringing out the best in these kids and pushing them to their limits in a positive way.

“The focus of this program is safety, number one, fun, number two, and learning, number three,” he added.

One of Berghash’s students is a beautiful, dark-haired little girl named Anna Mary, who I was lucky enough to meet on her 11th birthday. Anna Mary, along with her twin brother, Kevin, is participating in the program for the fourth year.

“We are so grateful and feel so fortunate that this program exists,” said Anna Mary and Kevin’s mother, Megan McMahon, who hails from Shaker Heights, Ohio. “A friend had encouraged us to come a few years ago, and after one visit, we were hooked. The volunteers and staff go above and beyond, and offer so much support. Kevin can ski every hill here, which is a huge confidence builder! And Anna Mary can even sit up better in her car seat because of the core strength this program has given her.”

After just a short discussion about the program, it’s easy to tell that it’s made a huge difference in the lives of the McMahon family.

“Skiing is a special thing we can do together now as a family,” Megan said. “This has been such a wonderful experience and this is now our favorite time of year!”

Walking around the Phoenix room at HoliMont, it’s clear that the other families feel the same way. There are a lot of kids and parents, smiling, chatting, helping each other out. I get the feeling that in here, it’s one big family.

Each year, the Phoenix Program and HoliMont host the “Rise to the Challenge” Race and Awareness Day, bringing in 80 racers from several area adaptive ski programs. All 22-25 students that participate in the Phoenix Program each year also participate in the race.

This year, the race will be held on Feb. 8. The race is open to everyone and is a great opportunity for students to show the community their snowsport skills. Stop out and show your support for this amazing program that helps so many wonderful children and adults!

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